Tenants Subjected to Harassing Construction and Improper Rent Increases

In Pierre et al v. Cox, Greenstein & McDonald represented 13 tenants in a legal action against their landlord for his violation of Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance (“Measure EE”1). Greenstein & McDonald succeeded at trial and the tenants had their rights vindicated, achieving excellent results. The case was heavily contested for over 2 ½ years in Alameda County Superior Court, with the defense following a strategy to complicate the litigation, make it more protracted, time consuming and expensive throughout. Trial alone took nearly 8 weeks of Court time. On August 12, 2010, the jury awarded Plaintiffs $538,963.98 in damages. Thereafter, the Court ordered the Defendant to pay all of the Plaintiffs’ attorneys fees ($1,052,402.00) and costs (approximately $50,000.00).

Plaintiffs at trial were 13 tenants who lived in a 30 unit apartment building located in the Piedmont Avenue area in North Oakland. Due to Oakland rent control law, most of the Plaintiffs’ rents were substantially below market value. The defendant, having decided that the tenant-protection laws had loopholes he thought he could exploit, attempted to recover possession of all the units quickly upon his purchase of the subject property. Defendant’s plan was to force the tenants from their long time homes so he could remodel and re-rent the units to new tenants at much higher rents. Every Plaintiff proved their case that the landlord’s acts to recover possession of their rent controlled homes were in knowing violation of Measure EE. Every Plaintiff further proved that the landlord’s acts caused them damages including but not limited to damages for emotional distress, annoyance, inconvenience, and pain and suffering.

Defendant spared no expense in defending this action: he repeatedly raised and re-raised meritless motions, arguments and defenses that were previously rejected; he obstructed legitimate discovery and he abused the discovery process by making overreaching, harassing discovery demands and remaining intractable on those issues. Nevertheless, Greenstein & McDonald stood firm, thoroughly prepared the case for trial and brought the tenant’s case to a jury to render a proper verdict.

Plaintiffs’ victory here is very important, a milestone against the creative and aggressive anti-rent-control landlord community who use tactics such as defendant used here, to attempt to end-run the tenant-protection laws. This case was critical in the ongoing enforcement of Oakland’s tenant protection ordinances and an important win for tenants residing in the rent controlled jurisdictions of California.

1. Measure EE, Oakland’s Just Cause For Eviction Ordinance, approved by voters and enacted in 2002, protects renters by requiring landlords to have a specific “just cause” for evicting a tenant. It took years of struggle and several campaigns for Oakland anti-eviction activists to get an ordinance in place that would protect renters from unfair evictions. Before Measure EE took effect in Oakland, tenants were being evicted by the thousands for no reason at all, with 30-day no-cause evictions. It was known as the eviction-for-profit system. Landlords kept evicting low-income renters in hope of finding wealthier tenants to pay higher rents.

Since December of 2002, Measure EE has saved thousands of people in Oakland from being evicted by landlords wanting to use no-cause evictions. However, Measure EE has been under constant attack by the anti-rent control and landlord community ever since Oakland voters approved the Just Cause ordinance in the November 2002 election. There has been a concerted effort by landlords and their interest groups to attack and render ineffective tenant-protection ordinances like Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program and Measure EE.

*this case study is not a guarantee of success for any other case